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Although they came into things a bit later in the game to be considered a seminal power metal act, Dionysus established themselves quite nicely in 2002 with a strong debut in "Sign Of Truth". While it was heavily in line with the prominent classical music tendencies that were prominent among a number of Swedish acts, inherited largely from Malmsteen, there were some occasional flirtations with a more progressive sound, as well as some tendencies towards the older character of the German sound of Helloween and Running Wild. It was a bit too moderated and well-rounded to quite sink in as a true classic, but it was very strong and definitely made some waves. A couple years later, just the heels of what was arguably vocalist Olaf Hayer's pinnacle performance on Luca Turilli's Prophet Of The Last Esclipse, the ancient Greek deification of debauchery came roaring back with Anima Mundi, a name that is stipulated to signify a link between all life in the world, and with it a deeper, more refined, and riveting ride through the world of reaffirming and slightly expanding the boundaries of the power metal revival.
While Dionysus opted not to go down a path being blazed by Dragonforce where flash and speed are primal, compared to the debut, their sophomore offering is definitely a bit faster and more stylized. The keyboard work has definitely gained a higher prominence, though overall the entire arrangement has become a bit busier and fancier, almost as if these guys took a couple of subtle nods from the fairly prominent progressive metal scene that had been developing in Sweden in the 1990s. Songs such as "Eyes Of The World" and "Paradise Land" definitely exude a bit of a Dream Theater character at times, largely due to the frequent employment of guitar and keyboard layered interchanges that have sort of a spacey character to them and mirror some of the flashy elements that John Petrucci and Kevin Moore put forth on Awake. Overall, these songs are definitely of a faster, early 2000s power metal style, but just a tad bit too intricate and involved to pass for a straight up emulation of bands like Thunderstone or Stratovarius.
Where this album really gets the job done is in the chorus hook department and memorable main theme category, something that isn't unique to the likes of Freedom Call (a band that had a sizable influence on this one), but was largely their trademark at the time compared to the greater emphasis on speed and impact that typified most of the German scene. Songs like the title track "Anima Mundi", "My Heart Is Crying" and the opener "Divine" definitely have that feel good, soaring chorus character to them with a driving yet not overly fast and straight forward feel that dominated the stronger points of "Crystal Empire", while Hayer's vocals are a bit closer to the rougher edge of Ralf Scheepers and often hitting similarly exaggerated high notes. Things slow down a bit into a creeping groove on "March For Freedom", which comes a bit closer to an early 80s Iron Maiden meets Dio homage with a more stripped down riff set, but the emphasis on sing-along fanfare during the refrain and a generally easily discerned structure remains a constant. The only stylistic fluke is the band's somewhat sappy ballad "Forever More", which is right out of the Power Quest playbook and while a decent song, is a tad bit out of place among the rest of this album's contents.
In a changing landscape for the style, Dionysus largely stayed true to form here, and where some stylistic innovations occur, they tend to be quite distinct from the general direction of where many were going at this juncture. Granted, some of the progressive elements employed here were also picked up by Masterplan in a few places on their debut, but overall Dionysus didn't really end up following the lead of said band and Edguy at this juncture, opting for something that many were starting to consider passe by this point. This is fairly technical stuff that definitely rivals a lot of the fancy stuff that Narnia put together on The Great Fall and is a bit more involved in terms of songwriting compared to Stormwind's Rising Symphony. It's most prominent feature is the astounding vocal abilities of Olaf Hayer, but the rest of the musicians present are quite close behind, making for an all around powerful album that is a credit to a style that had essentially peaked by the time it was released.
There seems to be quite some people loving this band and especially this album. They find it enjoyable, innovative and catchy. I don’t enjoy it, and I don’t know enough about the power metal scene to tell how innovative it is or compare it with other discs. In deed this is the second biggest mistake I’ve made in buying albums. No 1 was a hip-hop album. I loved Olaf Hayer’s vocals on the Luca Turilli albums and he’s truly great in Dionysus too. Range, power, technicality… What a voice! The other band members play their instruments very well too, especially the keyboardist do. So far, so good. But what if we combine these elements, in a mix that makes Olaf lose much of his power? What if we remove about every riff? If we make the drums sound just like any other power metal band? If we make the keyboards the no 1 instrument? And don’t even think about making the bass heavy. Yes, that would be Dionysus.
The best song is the most outstanding one, March For Freedom. It’s more of a power metal ballad march-song written solely by Ronny Milianowicz, the drummer and most diligent songwriter of the band. It’s heavier and features better drums, more bass and guitars and less keyboards than the other songs. Yes, it’s the overrepresented keyboard I dislike and the song writing others tend to find catchy and brilliant. I find it irritating and boring. Someone should’ve told them to keep the synth pop out of metal. Someone should’ve told them to vary the speed. This isn’t generic; it’s quite unique but not that good. Using fewer keyboard elements, fewer keyboard experimentations, more varied song writing and a mix emphasizes more on the vocals and guitars this band would’ve been something that I did give an extra spin for another reason than reviewing it.